SIX BITS: Tebow, Pouncey, Wright, Noah, Horford

1 » After head coach Josh McDaniels was fired, murmurs surrounded the Denver Broncos specifically about whether or not his replacement would be a fan of rookie quarterback Tim Tebow. Now that John Fox has been hired as the team’s new head coach, questions about Tebow’s safety in Mile High have been quieted. The issue now is whether or not he will be tabbed as the team’s starter in 2011. “Just like any position, they’ll compete and we’ll go from there,” said Fox on the Dan Patrick Show when discussing Tebow and veteran Kyle Orton. “It’s too early for me to say. I’m going to evaluate guys on grass and we’ll have to see when we get those opportunities.” Most of Denver is calling for Tebow to be given the reigns to the offense after he started the final three games of the 2010 season; Fox hopes to be convinced of the same next year.

2 » The Beaver County Times sat down with Pittsburgh Steelers starting center Maurkice Pouncey and pick his brain about the team’s playoff run. One of two Florida Gators rookies remaining in the NFL Playoffs, Pouncey was candid in his answers. “It’s so much better,” he said of winning an NFL playoff game compared to playing in big games at Florida. “There is so much more on the line. In college, it was awesome. We had a great group of guys. But it was amazing. It was unbelievable. Man, our fans were awesome. For them to be out there with that much energy, it was crazy.” Pouncey also said winning a Super Bowl would be “the greatest accomplishment ever.”

3 » Chicago Bears safety Chris Harris injured his hip in the third quarter of Sunday’s game, paving the way for Major Wright to see extensive playing time against the Seattle Seahawks. Though Harris will be back against the Green Bay Packers, Wright is expected to see more playing time than usual in relief of his teammate.

4 » Catching up with injured Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, who is currently on the outside looking in, NBA.com reports that the former Gators star will have a pin removed from his injured right thumb in a week’s time and will finally begin rehabilitation on the thumb shortly after. “It’s been long and sometimes frustrating not being able to be out there with my teammates,” Noah said on Monday. “Physically, I feel pretty good. I’ve been doing a lot of cardio and working out. I feel strong and I’ll be ready to get back and help the team. I’m just trying to control what I can control right now. I’m all about getting this pin out of my finger and getting my hand back to 100 percent. Hopefully it’s before that because I would love to play in that game.” The article also discusses Noah inviting a dozen children to a game on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, his thoughts on point guard Derrick Rose and how good he believes the team can be this season.

5 » Speaking of former Florida stars in the NBA, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford is once again having an impressive season. In addition to averaging a career-high 16.5 points per game, Horford set a new career-high in blocks with seven on Monday night. He also scored 23 points (on 10-of-16 shooting), grabbed nine rebounds and dished six assists in his team’s victory against the Sacramento Kings.

6 » Swimmers Gemma Spofforth (who graduated in December) and senior Conor Dwyer have been named the 2010 recipients of the Ben Hill Griffin Award. Recognizing and honoring the top female and male student-athlete who excels in both athletic and academic achievement as well as extra-curricular involvement, the award is presented by the University Athletic Association. Spofforth is the third woman to win the award in back-to-back seasons (Angie McGinnis-2006-07, Nicole Haislett-1992-93); she and Tebow (only three-time winner) were honored in 2009. Dwyer is the third men’s swimmer to get the award (Ryan Lochte-2004, Greg Burgess-1993).

Photo Credit: NBA.com

FOUR BITS: Pittman, Jordan, Fraine, gymnastics

1 » Wide receiver recruit Latroy Pittman (Citra, FL) became the Florida Gators first commitment for the 2012 recruiting cycle on Aug. 17. When head coach Urban Meyer stepped down in December, Pittman paused for a second even though it has been “my dream to play there since I was three,” as he said himself last year. With new head coach Will Muschamp and WR coach Aubrey Hill now in the fold, Pittman told The Gainesville Sun that he remains as committed as ever after visiting campus over the weekend. “I feel so at home when I’m up there,” he said, according to the paper. “It’s like a feeling you get when you just know something feels right, that no other place can give you that factor.”

2 » With three-star offensive lineman Chase Hounshell (Kirkland, OH) switching his commitment to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Monday evening, Florida is left with only two commits at that position for 2011. One of those two players, three-star Tommy Jordan (Ridgefield, CT), was supposed to be an early enrollee set to begin classes at the University of Florida last week. Instead Jordan decided not to join UF in the spring and said he would be back in the summer. Shutting off communications, Jordan was rumored to be wavering in his commitment by assumption due to his decision to go silent. In a conversation with Ridgefield Patch, Jordan explains he remains committed to the Gators and simply wanted a break from the stress of school and recruiting. “I am going to take the semester off and go back in the late spring,” Jordan said at one of his high school’s basketball games. “I have been working my butt off to graduate early and now all this stuff is happening. It just seemed like I needed a break.” He also spoke about Muschamp and new offensive line coach Frank Verducci. “I am really excited about that staff they are putting together there,” he said. “I just thought it was better to come back here while all this was going on and they figure out how it is all going to work. But I still plan on going there and am really excited about the future.”

3 » The fourth former Florida player to earn this honor, goalkeeper Katie Fraine will play in Women’s Professional Soccer in 2011 after being selected in the league’s draft held last Friday. Only one of two goalkeepers selected in the draft, Fraine joins former Gators Heather Mitts, Abby Wambach and Stacy Bishop in the league. She will be teammates with Wambach on the Washington Freedom. Fraine left the Gators as the school’s career leader in solo shutouts (27) who played a big role in helping Florida win the 2010 Southeastern Conference Championship.

4 » No. 1 Gators gymnastics (2-0, 1-0 SEC) is off to a fast start this season with back-to-back victories over the then-No. 10 Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-1) and No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats (2-1, 0-1 SEC). Florida took down Nebraska 196.925-194.950 in front of over 5,000 fans at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Jan. 8 and followed up that performance with a 196.775-192.90 win against Kentucky on Jan. 14. The Gators took home five events against the Cornhuskers with sophomore Ashanée Dickerson winning four of them. Dickerson won two more against the Wildcats; freshman Alaina Johnson and sophomore Marissa King each captured two of their own.

Hounshell switches commitment to Notre Dame

Though he never officially decommitted from the Florida Gators in early January, three-star offensive lineman recruit Chase Hounshell (Kirkland, OH) chose not to enroll early at the University of Florida as he had originally planned in order to delay his final decision so he could gather more information. Monday evening Hounshell switched his commitment from the Gators to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the same day coaches from that school paid him an in-home visit.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp, offensive line coach Frank Verducci and tight ends coach Brian White visited Hounshell on Sunday and came away with an agreement from the young man that he would visit UF this upcoming weekend in order to reaffirm his commitment. Meeting with Notre Dame less than 24 hours later appears to have canceled those plans as well.

“I committed to the University of Notre Dame,” Hounshell announced on his personal Twitter account. “[I] want to thank Gator Country for all your support. You guys are the best, but I had to do what’s best for me.”

According to 247 Sports, he will switch to defensive end for the Fighting Irish.

When he agreed to join the team on Aug. 11, Hounshell was the Gators 13th commitment. Since head coach Urban Meyer (and in this case offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Steve Addazio) left the program, he is Florida’s third decommitment. The others include four-stars cornerback Nick Waisome (Florida State) and linebacker Ryan Shazier (Ohio State). Four-star defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan (Clemson) decommitted from UF on Nov. 29

The Gators now have 15 commitments for the 2011 recruiting cycle, seven of whom enrolled in January for the spring semester.
 

Loss on Saturday keeps Gators outside Top 25

Having won five-straight games in impressive fashion, the Florida Gators were making a case to hop back into the ESPN/USA Today and Associated Press Top 25 polls…that is until they fell to the South Carolina Gamecocks 72-69 in Gainesville, FL on Saturday. Instead of cracking the Top 25 for the first time in a month, Florida (13-4, 2-1 SEC) was once again on the outside looking in when the latest polls were released on Monday.

WeekGator BaitRecordAP Top 25USA TodayNCAA RPI
Preseason--No. 7 (1,153)No. 7 (568)-
2W 68-45 vs. William & Mary1-0No. 8 (1,127)No. 7 (560)-
3L 69-67 vs. Miami
W(OT) 61-56 vs. ULM
2-1No. 18 (467)No. 16 (303)-
4L(OT) 65-66 vs. Georgetown
W 56-47 vs. UAB
L 64-75 vs. North Carolina
3-3NR (40)No. 24 (60)-

ESPN/USA TODAY
Last Week 1-25: Duke (31*), Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Villanova, Purdue, Connecticut, Brigham Young, Notre Dame, Missouri, Texas A&M, Texas, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisville, Washington, Georgetown, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Central Florida, Temple, Michigan State, Minnesota
+ Florida received 20 voting points, good for 33rd overall

This Week 1-25: Ohio State (28*), Kansas (2*), Syracuse (1*), Pittsburgh, Duke, San Diego State, Villanova, Connecticut, Brigham Young, Texas A&M, Texas, Kentucky, Purdue, Missouri, Louisville, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Minnesota, Washington, Saint Mary’s, Illinois, Georgetown, Kansas State, Arizona
+ Florida received eight voting points, good for 38th overall

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Last Week 1-25: Duke (65*), Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Villanova, Purdue, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Brigham Young, Texas, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Missouri, Illinois, Washington, Louisville, Temple, Wisconsin, Kansas State, Georgetown, Central Florida, Georgia, Cincinnati
+ Florida received 110 voting points, good for 29th overall

This Week 1-25: Ohio State (49*), Kansas (6*), Syracuse (8*), Duke (1*), Pittsburgh (1*), San Diego State, Villanova, Connecticut, Brigham Young, Texas, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Missouri, Purdue, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Louisville, Washington, West Virginia, Saint Mary’s, Georgetown, Illinois, Cincinnati
+ Florida received 42 voting points, good for 35th overall

* Numbers represent first-place votes.

SIX BITS: Blakely, Hounshell, Jernigan, Brissett

1 » Florida Gators four-star running back Mike Blakely (Bradenton, FL), an early enrollee already on campus at the University of Florida, is scheduled to have shoulder surgery this week that will keep him out of spring practice but hopefully allow him to be available in the summer. It is not known how Blakely injured his shoulder except that it occurred before he enrolled in January.

2 » Three-star offensive lineman commitment Chase Hounshell (Kirkland, OH), originally scheduled to join some of his future teammates as an early enrollee this month, instead decided to return to high school and take his time making his final decision. Hounshell announced Sunday that he received an in-home visit from Gators head coach Will Muschamp and offensive line coach/running game coordinator Frank Verducci, men he described as “first class” and “just great people.” He will be visiting Florida this upcoming weekend in what appears to be a reaffirmation trip.

3 » The Gators coaching staff, barring a packed suitcase and plane ticket to Gainesville, FL, is now complete. New defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, the defensive line coach of the Seattle Seahawks until they lost to the Chicago Bears in the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs on Sunday, has now fulfilled his commitment to his team and should be ready to hit the ground running any day now. A Scout.com report from Friday noted that Quinn’s assistant DL coach at Florida, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Bryant Young, was already hard at work recruiting. He was in the home of five-star DT Tim Jernigan (Lake City, FL), convincing him to take a trip and give UF some serious consideration.

4 » Though former Gators safety Will Hill decided to leave school early and declare for the 2011 NFL Draft, his classmate and teammate in the secondary, junior cornerback Janoris Jenkins, chose to stick around for his senior season. Hill was shocked by this occurrence, especially considering Jenkins was expected to be a first-round selection, and told the Orlando Sentinel his thoughts on the subject. “He was talking about leaving,” Hill said. “I haven’t heard or spoke to him for two months. Last time I spoke to him, he said he was leaving. That he’s coming back is kind of a surprise.”

5 » After meeting with four-star quarterback recruit Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL) at his high school on Friday, new Florida offensive coordinator and QB coach Charlie Weis invited him to take an unofficial visit to campus over the weekend. Brissett obliged, watched most of the game with Weis and met up with some of his former Dwyer High School teammates including freshman S Matt Elam. Brissett, also a high school basketball player who could be in a unique position to play both sports at UF, reportedly came away from the visit impressed though he still has plenty of thinking to do. Muschamp extended a scholarship offer to Brissett after Weis left on Friday, something he had not been given under former head coach Urban Meyer.

6 » The Gators’ two basketball programs have had a pretty rough go of it this week. In addition to the men falling 72-69 at home to South Carolina, the women lost a pair of gut-wrenching games on Thursday and Sunday. Routed 83-40 at home by the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers on Jan. 13, Florida blew a 16-point lead with 14:17 remaining in the game to fall 70-64 to the Georgia Bulldogs on the road in Athens, GA on Jan. 16. After getting out to a good start this season, the women have lost three of their last four games including a 73-56 throttling by Auburn on Jan. 6.

Former Florida Gators in the NFL: Divisional

With the 2010-11 NFL regular season having come to a close, a number of Florida Gators participated in Divisional Round action during the NFL Playoffs. OGGOA has checked and re-checked the box scores to bring you a summary of what these Gators accomplished during the second week of the playoffs.

LB MIKE PETERSON, Atlanta Falcons: Six tackles (four solo, two for loss)
S MAJOR WRIGHT, Chicago Bears*: Two tackles (one solo), pass defended
LB JERMAINE CUNNINGHAM, New England Patriots: Two tackles (solo, for loss)
TE AARON HERNANDEZ, New England Patriots: Reception for four yards
LB BRANDON SPIKES, New England Patriots: Solo tackle
RB FRED TAYLOR, New England Patriots: Inactive
DT GERARD WARREN, New England Patriots: Solo tackle
C MAURKICE POUNCEY, Pittsburgh Steelers*: Started and played the entire game

* Team remains active in the playoffs.

REGULAR SEASON: Week 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17

PLAYOFFS: Wild Card

1/15: Donovan on Florida’s home loss to USC

Fighting back from a double-digit deficit to take the lead late in the second half, the Florida Gators (13-4, 2-1 SEC) failed to finish their comeback attempt against the South Carolina Gamecocks (11-5, 2-1 SEC), falling to their Southeastern Conference foe 72-69 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL on Saturday. Florida head coach Billy Donovan had plenty to say about his team’s performance after the game. We have compiled some of the key notes and quotes.

FREE THROW WOES PLAGUE GATORS

The Gators defense failed to get necessary stops at the end of the game Saturday, but ask anyone who was watching the contest and they will tell you it was Florida’s poor free throw shooting that took away every opportunity that presented itself. UF missed their final five free throws including three inside the final four minutes of the game. “The thing that killed us the last four or five minutes of the game was we didn’t make free throws. The free throw shooting hurt us,” Donovan admitted. “I try to create some level of pressure when they’re shooting free throws [in practice]. And we’ve been doing it for a while. You try to do it in practice.”

Though junior point guard Erving Walker uncharacteristically missed the front end of a one-and-one, it was the Gators’ frontcourt that really struggled from the charity stripe. “When you look at your frontcourt and those guys go 6-for-14 from the free throw line, it’s hard,” he said. “A lot of times being a great free throw shooting team has to do with how well your frontcourt players are shooting because they have the most opportunities to get fouled because they are playing closer to the rim more often than not.”

OFFENSE HAS IMPROVED AS DEFENSE WILTS

Struggling to post at least 70 points for seven-straight games over approximately a month, Florida found some offense as the year came to a close and a new one began. Since Dec. 31, the Gators have posted totals of 71, 84, 77, 81 and 69 points in consecutive games. While their offensive improvement has garnered much attention, their defensive struggled have been overlooked for the same reason. Florida has allowed opponents to score at least 70 points in three-straight games after only permitting that many twice in the previous 14 contests.

“The one thing that was being lost in [the offensive slump] was the fact that we were really defending people. We were keeping people in the 50s and low 60s,” Donovan said. “Ever since we started making some shots, our defense has really, really dropped off. People didn’t notice because the ball was going in the basket.”

Donovan added that the Gators “defensive intensity” was the most disappointing thing to him about his team’s performance in the first half, something that led to them being in a double-digit hole that was tough to fight out of throughout the remainder of the contest.

QUOTES

On if the team appeared laid back after a big win like they have been previously: “I didn’t feel that way in this game.”

On first half struggles: “I think they blocked eight shots in the first half. And then we come into the half and [Alex] Tyus and [Vernon] Macklin are 3-for-13 from the field. Our lack of understanding about how we needed to attack them offensively… We had way too many shots blocked. We had guys driving down the lane without a purpose, getting caught up in the air. We didn’t make the right decision with the ball.”

On why sophomore F Erik Murphy (foot) did not play: “He was available. He practiced sparingly the last two days. With the way the game was going, I didn’t want to put him in that situation. This is a better week for him going into the Auburn game because we got Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday where he can get back. It was probably better for his health that he didn’t play.”

Free throws doom Gators in loss to Gamecocks

Rallying back from a double-digit deficit they were stuck in most of the game, the Florida Gators (13-4, 2-1 SEC) eventually fell 72-69 to the South Carolina Gamecocks (11-5, 2-1 SEC) on Saturday afternoon at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL after missing three free throws inside the final four minutes of the game.

The Gators were only 12-for-22 from the line as a team and failed in their bid for a come-from-behind win even though they were provided ample opportunities as the second half drew to a close. Florida missed five-straight free throws including four on three-point plays, and junior point guard Erving Walker uncharacteristically missed the first shot of a one-and-one.

The team’s leading scorer and best free throw shooter, Walker finished the game with a team-high 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting but missed two key free throws. Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton, the team’s second leading scorer, was an anemic 3-for-10 (1-of-4 from downtown) with nine points.

Tied at 18 in the first half, South Carolina went on a 15-2 run over five minutes to take a game-high 13-point lead. The Gamecocks did a great job of keeping Gators redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin out of the paint in the opening half, limiting him to two baskets on seven shot attempts.

South Carolina kept their double-digit lead for most of the second half, that is until Florida went on a 10-0 run to tie the game at 59. Senior forward Chandler Parsons and Boynton hit back-to-back treys, Walker followed up with a layup, and senior F Alex Tyus added one of his own to complete the run.

The Gamecocks responded and went back up 63-59, but Walker drained a three from the corner to bring the game within one with 1:40 remaining. South Carolina F Sam Muldrow hit a dagger trey, and G Bruce Ellington connected on a runner to force fouls and free throws with the clock winding down.

Ellington led the Gamecocks with a game-high 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Three other South Carolina starters, including Muldrow, scored 10, and the team connected on 73.3 percent of their free throw attempts.

Gators freshman C Patric Young, who played 19 minutes off the bench, scored a career-high 12 points while going 5-for-6 from the field. Macklin finished with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds. Tyus added 10 points.

Florida, which had won five-straight games and eight of their last nine contests, had both streaks snapped while losing their third home game of the season. The Gators failed to score 70 points for the first time since Dec. 22, 2010, and were out-rebounded (36-32) for only the third time this season.

UF hopes to rebound from their tough home loss as they travel to Auburn for their next game on Thursday at 7 p.m. The contest will air live on ESPN.

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